Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Perplexed by Purple

Image result for moderator general assembly 2015 scotland

I wondered why the Moderators of the GA of the Church of Scotland have taken to wearing purple?

Is it because it looks better on TV or that it stands out in the crowd.  Historically the expense of purple dyes limited this colour to the clothes of the rich and powerful, hence imperial purple. 

Or, perhaps it is a throwback to the counter culture of the 60s and 70s and the spirit of rebellion.  In the interest of openness I must confess that in my young and rebellious days I had a purple clerical vest that I could wear underneath an open necked shirt.  I thought I looked pretty cool. (I could not have  been that rebellious if I actually wore a clerical collar, a practice I soon discarded.)

Perhaps there is a hidden psychological significance in purple?  I looked this up on BBC under psychology of colour.  There it informs me that it is “associated with: creativity, fertility, joy, but also magic, evil, death and sex.” No, can’t see Moderators putting out that  subliminal message.

Or perhaps there is a bit of ecclesiastical keeping up with the Jones here, in particular our southern neighbours.  

Wikipedia helpfully points out that “during the 20th century Anglican bishops began wearing purple (officially violet) shirts as a sign of their office. Along with the pectoral cross and episcopal ring, this marks them off from other clergy in appearance.”

So why do Presbyterians, who believe in the parity of ministers, wear purple?

Natural Justice or Divine Law

It is interesting to see how the concept of "natural justice" is being used by some evangelicals to justify the failure to apply divine law, especially in the case of church discipline.

One would have imagined that evangelicals, especially those in the Reformed tradition, would have been committed to the principle of the authority and the sufficiency of Scripture, and the Law of God as revealed in Scripture as the supreme guide to our conduct.

Now, however, a new principle comes into play, that of “natural justice”.  Just what is natural justice, and does it stand over divine law as the ultimate arbitrator of moral conduct in general, and discipline within the church in particular?

Certainly Reformed theology has a positive place for natural law. However,  this law is not seen as independent of God, but rather as a manifestation of God’s law revealed in man’s moral consciousness. Both biblical revelation and natural law originate in God and can therefore not contradict each other.

There is a technical, legal sense in which the term “natural justice” is used. It embodies three principles: the no-one should be condemned without a fair hearing, that they should not be judged on the basis of personal bias, (their own or other’s), and that they should be judged on the basis of reasonable evidence.  See, for example:

Now, when it is suggested at the recent Church of Scotland General Assembly that any office-bearers who have entered into a gay marriage should be exempt from all discipline because the church has not yet definitively expressed its mind on gay marriage, which of the three principles are being violated if discipline were taken against those in gay marriages? There is no suggestion that anyone be disciplined without a fair hearing, or that personal bias alone should be the basis of such discipline, or that reasonable evidence in terms of the teaching of Scripture and the actual facts of the case would not be the basis of any judgement.

Would we, for example, in a comparable case suggested that if the church were to set up a commission to consider the issue of zoophilia that office-bearers who had engaged or were engaging in bestiality before the delivery and acceptance of such a report be exempt from discipline on the basis of natural justice?

The concept of “natural justice” is a smokescreen.  It is basically saying, “We don’t like what God’s word says and we do not think it just to apply its standards in the case of ecclesiastical discipline.” But sin is sin, and no matter whether the individual is or is not ordained before a certain date, discipline is required of the church to maintain its purity and its credibility.

If natural justice is seen to override Scripture, then the supreme standard is no longer the voice of God speaking by his Spirit through his word.

Confessionally,  Reformed evangelicals are committed to the statement of the Westminster Confession, “The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.” (1:10)

Evangelicals have been hoodwinked or at best have been naive if they think that natural justice precludes ecclesiastical discipline.  But, perhaps they are simply unwilling to admit that they belong to a denomination that can no longer exhibit one of Knox’s marks of a true church – biblical discipline.  They cannot bring a discipline charge against those office-bearer’s who engage in sexual immorality, nor if truth be told against any of their own members who conduct themselves in such a manner. After all, a member could argue that if such conduct is acceptable in a minister, why not in a member.  They could appeal to Presbytery or to the General Assembly against such narrow and bigoted discipline because, yes, “It is contrary to natural justice.”

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

The Church of Scotland
No Witch Hunts Here

It was interesting to see the caving of the evangelicals to the new politically correct agenda.  Having confirmed on the Saturday, the first day of General Assembly, that practising homosexuals in civil partnerships were eligible under certain conditions to serve as Deacons and Ministers, the GA then moved on to consider the new legal situation introduced by homosexual marriage.  A provision to alter the new legislation to include homosexual marriage as well as civil partnerships was passed and sent down to Presbyteries under the Barrier Act.

However,  just in case there happened to be any practising homosexuals who had already defied the GA and entered into a homosexual marriage – perish the thought that any gay activist would so defy the Assembly – there was an addendum passed to say that they would be immune from any discipline just like those in civil partnerships.  It later transpired that one such gay activist had already entered into a gay marriage:

 I am sure that the ex-moderator who proposed this protective moratorium had absolutely no idea that this had happened; we could not imagine the liberal establishment of the Kirk failing to give such information to the GA if it was in possession of the facts.

Just to show how “nice” the nasty evangelicals really were he was seconded by the Rev Gordon Kennedy, of the Covenant Fellowship.

In reporting this, the Covenant Fellowship website explains:

“The moratorium provisions were then proposed by the Very Rev John Chalmers and seconded by Rev Gordon Kennedy, helpfully stressing the need for natural justice to apply, and reinforcing the fact that a witch hunt was on no-one’s agenda. Once tidied up, it was passed overwhelmingly.

So what exactly is a witch hunt?  Is this ecclesiastical code for church discipline?  Are the evangelicals saying that they are perfectly satisfied not to pursue discipline against the sexually immoral ministers and deacons in their midst?  Given the fact that they cannot actually bring discipline charges on these matters anyway, church law having clarified that such conduct is now within the orbit of morally acceptable behaviour in a broad church, are they saying that those who dare to suggest such a course of action are witch hunters, pursuing with a vengeance the innocent ministers who are engaging in such practices?

It seems to me that there are two choices.

You can follow Scripture:

When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord...   I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality.” ( 1 Corinthians 5)

Or you can follow the old Scottish ecclesiastical proverb, newly re-discovered, “Let sleeping sodomites lie.”

But then, discipline would not be nice and what better way to dismiss biblical church discipline than by falsely categorising it as a form of witch hunt and by setting up an antithesis between “natural justice” and biblical church discipline.

Interestingly, I noted as I was writing this the first episode of a new series of the Heidlecast in which Scott Clark speaks “Of Nice and Men”.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Church of Scotland R.I.P

It is difficult to know what to say in this situation. I left the denomination 20 years ago, in part over the promotion of homosexual activity.  My only surprise is that it has taken 20 years for the legislation to catch up with the reality on the ground.

There are still those who are saying “We will stay in and fight.  We will disobey the G.A.”

My question is whether there are any legal means left to fight.  There is no discipline possible for those who practice or promote homosexual sin; but then neither is there any discipline available against those who promote heretical teaching and deny the Gospel.

What do the evangelicals mean when they say they will disobey the Assembly? Will they refuse to recognise the status of or work with those in same sex relationships?  Perhaps; but will they refuse to recognise and work with those who promote and support such unbiblical behaviour.  Probably not; because to exist within an apostate denomination you need to be willing to compromise with heretics.

Do they really want to engage in a civil war within the Church of Scotland, with all the pressure this will bring on their ministries?  Or, would it not be better to separate and join with an evangelical Presbyterian body where your energies are not exhausted in fighting the denomination but rather focused on preaching the Gospel and promoting the Kingdom.
The Church of Scotland is just a denomination, and as far as I am concerned an apostate denomination.  It is not the church in Scotland.  A false ecclesiology refuses to recognise that the denomination is not the church. 

What of new candidates for the ministry – will they be told to “hide” their opposition to active homosexuality and refusal to recognise this new law or the ministries it enables.  The denomination can rightly refuse those who will not be subject to the law of the Kirk.

If the evangelicals want to work towards and fight for a national, evangelical Reformed church then let them come and join us in the Free Church of Scotland and together with us help to realise that vision.  We can work together.  Better this than to waste your energy on a denominational cause that cannot be won.

When a ship is sinking, holed below the water line, the pumps having failed and the vessel listing to the point of capsizing, then the sensible passenger takes to the lifeboats for the preservation of life and safety.  I am sure that any leader of the Covenant Fellowship /Forward Together who might just happen to be on a cruise at this time would have the sense to know when to abandon a sinking ship – I hope that they might have the sense to  know when to abandon a sinking and apostate denomination.

The Humiliation of Christ

I was preaching recently on the humiliation of Christ from the Shorter Catechism:

Q . 27. In what did Christ's humiliation consist?
A. Christ's humiliation consisted in being born, and that in a poor circumstance; in being subject to God's law; in undergoing the miseries of this life, the wrath of God and the curse of death on the cross; in being buried; and in continuing under the power of death for a time.”

It did strike me forcibly how pseudo-Christian Liberalism must strip this doctrine of its truth and power. 

For them Christ was not humiliated in his birth, for he has no pre-incarnate existence and was not conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary. A mere human Christ has no pre-existence prior to conception. If Christ has no eternal pre-existence then there is no act of voluntary humiliation in his being born of woman.

Furthermore, there is their high handed and contemptuous dismissal of Christ bearing the wrath of God. We cannot possibly sing the words written by Keith Getty:

“Till on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live.”

Liberals must therefore remove any notion of Christ’s voluntary humiliation in vicariously bearing and satisfying God’s wrath on behalf of his elect. Christ’s death is no longer a “cursed death”, but merely a tragic injustice perpetrated by the Jewish leaders and the Roman authorities. He cannot bear the curse in our place for there is no curse to be borne.

Although Liberalism accepts the actual death of Christ as a fact of history, it cannot say “he continued under the power of death for a time.”  There is no terminus for death’s hold on Christ, for there can be no bodily resurrection.

So for Liberalism the re-written and revised catechism question must simply read, “Christ’s humiliation consists in his low condition, (poverty) and his undergoing the miseries of this life, (suffering), and then he died.”

Tragic, yes; saving, no! 

His condition merely reflects the condition of the poor and suffering throughout human history. For Liberalism salvation is not by spiritual redemption but by social action to eradicate poverty and alleviate suffering. The Gospel and its proclamation is displaced by social action and political rhetoric. This is part of the reason why, as Machen pointed out many years ago, Liberalism is not Christianity.

Monday, 11 May 2015

 Reaffirming the Doctrine of Scripture

“It is not strange that upon the Word of God all the forces of the foes of Christianity should be massed. If confidence in that Word can be undermined ; if, by subtlety and sophistry, its infallible inspiration may be made to appear like an old wives' fable or groundless tradition ; if in any way men may feel at liberty, like Jehudi, to use a penknife on the sacred roll and cut out of it whatever is offensive to the proud reason or the wayward will of the natural man the Devil will have achieved his greatest triumph.”

(A T Pierson, ed “The Inspired Word”)

Each generation needs to reaffirm afresh the doctrine of Scripture and to revisit our confessional statements that we might be firmly grounded on what it means to hold a biblical doctrine of Scripture.

I don’t read a lot of popular modern theology, for often it is simply a restatement of old truth but in fresh clothing.  While I myself prefer a policy of “ad fontes”, going back to seminal works on biblical inspiration, I recognise the invaluable role that such modern restatements perform for the new generation. 

Being a patriotic Scot I have chosen to turn from my usual parsimonious practice – the old books cost me nothing – and indulge myself in reading Sinclair Ferguson’s new book on Scripture, “From the Mouth of God”.  I am pleased to say he says nothing new; no radical departures from Reformed theology or hip reinterpretations of the doctrine of Scripture.  What he gives is a fresh and vital restatement of these truths and a practical and experiential application of this vital area of Christian doctrine.  I highly commend it.

It seems to be the season for conferences on Scripture. Good!  I have been ploughing my way through numerous addresses by a rich variety of speakers, all sharing a common commitment to the inspiration, author, clarity and power of Scripture.  This is foundational, and I highly recommend the following sources:

“The Bible is the Word of God”, the G3 2015 conference

Clarus 2015, “Assembled Under the Word”

Ligonier, “ Inerrancy and Your Church” 2015 Winter Conference

TeamPyro Conference “Sufficient Fire”

This strange providence of so many organisations pursuing a common theme shows that the doctrine of Scripture, so under attack in neo-evangelicalism, is being boldly reaffirmed. I hope you enjoy some or even all of these addresses.  I can think of fewer wiser investments of our time.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

The Word of God or…

Yesterday was a most enjoyable and beneficial day spent at the Scottish Reformed Conference. We were blessed with solid expositions of the Word of God from Steven Curry and Kevin DeYoung.

They gave fairly broad brush expositions of Matthew 5, 6 and 7.  Steven spoke on the dangers of hypocrisy from Matthew 6, challenging the congregation with their heart attitude in regard to giving, praying and fasting.  Kevin dealt with the commitment of Christ to Scripture and his authority in teaching.  The primacy, authority and clarity of Scripture were underlined and emphasised.

This is what the church in Scotland needs: solid, spiritual exposition of the Word of God.

Meanwhile, in St George’s Tron Church of Scotland an alternative was on offer.  This is the building where Eric Alexander and Sinclair Ferguson ministered.  When the congregation left over the Church of Scotland’s abandonment of Scripture and embracing of active homosexual conduct the denomination seized the property and refused to negotiate its sale to the congregation. Instead, the Kirk established a new congregation and moved in a new minister heavily subsidized by the denomination.

So what is the pattern of ministry in this new congregation?  The banner outside the building says it all:

So there you are.  No mention of Scripture but instead a mishmash of new age charismatic heresy.

Meanwhile the true Tron church continues to minister the Word of God at their new location, probably the largest evangelical congregation in Glasgow.

When you reject the authority, clarity and sufficiency of Scripture it is but an easy road to charismatic confusion. Liberalism and charismatic new revelation can co-exist in an apostate denomination; what they share is a rejection of the finality and sufficiency of Scripture.

Our hope is that the few truly Reformed men in the national denomination will realise that their true fellowship is not with those who supplant or supplement Scripture, but with those who uphold the primacy and sufficiency of Scripture.  Our prayers are with them as they face a forthcoming GA where the rejection of Scripture will be formalised and finalised.  They will try to resist these moves, and for this we commend them.  But what will they do if the national church ignores their appeals and continues on the road of the rejection of Scripture.  I noted with interest that Kevin DeYoung made clear his own congregation’s course of action in a similar situation – they are leaving in order to maintain a truly biblical testimony.

Audio of the SRC addresses will soon be available at: